Rio Tinto launches review into destruction of sacred Aboriginal caves

Miner apologises for blasts at Western Australian site of huge archeological value

Protesters outside the Rio Tinto office in Perth, Australia on June 9th. The board-led review will seek input from employees and the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people. Photograph: Richard Wainwright/EPA

Rio Tinto on Friday launched a board-led review into how the miner destroyed two ancient and sacred Aboriginal caves in Western Australia, stepping up its response to the blasts after weeks of public criticism and shareholder dismay.

In his first comments since the caves were destroyed in late May, Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson apologised to present-day traditional owners of the land and pledged to make public the review's findings, due in October.

With state government approval, the world’s biggest iron ore miner destroyed two caves at Juukan Gorge, one of which had contained evidence of continual human habitation stretching back 46,000 years, as part of a mine expansion.

Rio's initial response came from its head of iron ore, Chris Salisbury, who characterised the incident as the result of a communication error and apologised for the distress that it had caused landowners, but not for the caves' destruction.


“The decision to conduct a board-led review of events at Juukan Gorge reflects our determination to learn lessons from what happened and to make any necessary improvements to our heritage processes and governance,” Thompson said on Friday.

The review will be conducted by Michael L'Estrange, an independent non-executive director of Rio Tinto, and will seek input from employees and the local Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people (PKKP).

Investors said Rio Tinto appeared to have initially underestimated the gravity of the destruction of the caves, which archaeologists said were of immense value due an unbroken link in human habitation since before the last ice age.

– Reuters